Salisbury closure would put students at risk - lawyer

MICHELLE COOKE
Last updated 16:03 27/11/2012

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High-needs female students will be at risk of sexual abuse, including rape, if they attend a co-educational residential facility for students with disabilities, a lawyer for Richmond’s Salisbury School said yesterday..
 
Education Minister Hekia Parata announced last month that the all-girls school would close at the end of the year and some of the 65 students would have the option of attending Halswell School in Christchurch, which would change from an all boys school to a co-ed one.
 
But a lawyer for Salisbury School’s board of trustees, which took the minister to court over the issue, says research shows that the girls will be at a heightened risk of sexual abuse because of their physical and intellectual impairment.
 
In the High Court at Wellington today lawyer Mai Chen presented “disturbing material” from Professor Freda Briggs, who undertook studies into both schools in the mid 1990s and in 2005.
 
Chen said Briggs' research showed that many students had a history of physical and mental abuse and that nearly all of the boys at Halswell School had experienced sexual abuse of some kind while at school.
 
The abuse often occurred in the toilet changing rooms or outside of normal school hours. “In other words they were opportunistic,” Chen said.
 
“Most of the boys accepted this abuse as normal sexual behaviour.”
 
Chen also cited information from Parent to Parent national president Peter Campbell.
 
Campbell said his experience as chief executive of a residential facility showed that mixing females and males with complex physical and intellectual needs in the same setting created an unsafe environment.
“It frequently results in inappropriate behaviour,” Chen quoted him as saying.
 
Usually the sexual advances were from the male students towards the females.
 
Many parents who attended the hearing today said they would not send their daughters to the school, which will be co-ed  in principle from next year.
 
Their daughters don’t know the difference between inappropriate and appropriate behaviour, they said.
 
All girls have had to meet specific criteria to attend Salisbury School, including that there were no suitable schools in their local area to accommodate them.
 
Their parents say they will send their daughters to a local school which cannot adequately care for their needs rather than  Halswell, where they believe they will be at risk from the male students.
 
“Boys will act opportunistically, add in a co-educational environment and there will be many opportunities for students to mix together…with little or no supervision,” Chen quoted Briggs as saying.
 
The female and male students would be mixing not just for six hours a day, but 24 hours a day, seven days a week.
 
The Crown is  putting forward its argument this afternoon. Justice Robert Dobson is  expected to reserve his decision.
 
 Parata  was not in court today but said at the time the decision was made that the ministry would also be instating a wrap-around service for students with complex needs.
 
The service would be extended to support students with high needs to remain in their community and attend their local school. The service would be based in every region with a trained facilitator, usually a psychologist, Parata said

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